Crazy, Fascinating & Horrifying:  Latest Edition

tags: Crazy, Fascinating & Horrifying

Each week we come across stuff that's weird.  Sometimes it's horrifying.  This is where we're sharing what we find. Make of it what you will!

For a child growing up in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976, apartheid was an abstract concept. White minority rule didn’t mean much in a community that was exclusively black. Parents and neighbors complained of denigrating treatment at work and segregated facilities in the nearby city of Johannesburg, but except for the occasional police superintendent or social worker, many children never encountered white people, and rarely experienced the racial divisions of a repugnant social order that treated most of the country’s residents like a lesser form of humanity.

That all changed when the government decreed that instead of learning in English, as most black children were, they would be taught in Afrikaans. To 15-year-old Antoinette Sithole, it was a bombshell. Not only was Afrikaans the language of their colonial oppressors—Afrikaans evolved from the Dutch spoken by South Africa’s first European settlers—she was already having a hard time understanding much of her subject matter. “Obviously physical science on its own is very difficult,” remembers Sithole, now 65. “The very same subject that you are struggling with in English, we are going to do them in Afrikaans? This doesn’t make sense.”

The sexual habits of people in Ancient Greece – from prostitution to pillow talk – are explored in a new book written by Paul Chrystal. Exploring the many layers of sex and sexuality in various Greek societies – from the Minoan civilisation through to Sparta and Hellenistic Greece – In Bed with the Ancient Greeks examines homosexuality, pederasty, mythological sex and sex in Greek philosophy and religion.

With the wealth of historical TV shows and documentaries available these days, you'd think the average history enthusiast would be spoiled for choice. But quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality (there's a reason "The Tudors" annoyed purists so much). Whether they're documentaries about true events, or works of fiction set in historical times -- like "Outlander" -- the following options are all sound entertainment choices for proud history nerds.

Charles-Edouard Jeannet, better known as Le Corbusier, was one of the 20th century’s more formidable architects. The Villa Savoye, High Court of Chandigarh, Unité d’Habitation, Notre Dame du Haut, and others still remain iconic. But his greatest (in terms of influence, be it good or bad) legacy lies in urban planning, in both public housing and imagining a car-filled city.

His urban planning ideas were to quite simply, as William JR Curtis notes in Le Corbusier: Ideas and Forms, “save the industrial city from disaster.”

And what did this savior have in mind for Paris in the early 1920s? Total destruction of several square miles on the Right Bank including one of Paris’s most popular neighborhoods—the Marais. And in its place, 18 glass towers.

The then-disease-plagued Marais (which was also historically its Jewish quarter) would be replaced by a gridded phalanx of 18 cruciform office towers over several square miles. The towers would sit in a multi-tiered park. One level was an immense amount of green space. Another level was for transportation. An airport was even included in the designs. Low-rise residential and government buildings appear in the northern corners and along the river.

Perhaps the only thing more fantastical and bizarre than the 2016 Republican race itself is how the Kennedy assassination became part of the campaign news cycle in May, albeit fleetingly.

A false allegation, given prominence by the National Enquirer, was recycled by Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee, during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” Per the article, Trump accused Rafael Cruz, father of candidate Ted, of consorting with the accused assassin of President Kennedy before November 1963: “You know, [Cruz’s] father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being, you know,  shot . . . . I mean, what was  he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It’s horrible.”

Putting aside the incoherence of Trump’s mind, as well as the frightening prospect of a US president who parrots the National Enquirer and listens to the likes of Roger Stone, a conspicuous conspiracy theorist, the kerfuffle did focus attention on a long-forgotten minor mystery: who was the “unidentified man” who distributed Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) handbills with Lee Harvey Oswald on the streets of New Orleans scarcely three months before John F. Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963?

The past five or six years have seen a massive rise in one particular area of medieval studies – an area that has the potential to give back a voice to the silent majority of the medieval population. Specialists have been studying medieval church graffiti for many decades. But new digital imaging technologies, and the recent establishment of numerous volunteer recording programmes, have transformed its scope and implications. The study of early graffiti has become commonplace. The first large-scale survey began in the English county of Norfolk a little over six years ago. Norfolk is home to more than 650 surviving medieval churches – more than in any other area in England. The results of that survey have been astonishing.

What’s an obscenity? The question is hard, partly because the answer keeps changing. Forty-three years ago Tuesday, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. California established the so-called “Miller test” for obscenity. According to the ruling, which is based on “the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards,” any matter that “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” and “taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests” is obscene, and thus not protected by the First Amendment….

Nowadays, there are fewer obscenity prosecutions and most of the concern is about child pornography, says law professor Kevin Saunders, author of Degradation: What the History of Obscenity Tells Us About Hate Speech. So TIME may have been ahead of its time in 1974 when, after Miller v. California, the magazine predicted: “The national mood could be pointing to an uncensored future…in which consenting adults will be free to decide for themselves what they will read and see.”

But if there’s anything that can be said about the history of obscenity in America, it’s that what people want to “read and see” evolves. Here are just a few examples that prove the point:

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